Put the Bloom Back in Your Horse’s Coat
Does your horse struggle with dull, flaky hair coat? Are his mane and tail dry and brittle? The quality of your horse’s hair is based in part on his genetic makeup, but nutrition can also play a role.
Nutrients affect hair quality
Skin and hair need protein. Proteins are made up of different amino acids and each amino acid has a purpose. Protein deficiency is rarely seen, but your horse may be lacking certain amino acids that affect hair quality. Methionine and lysine are both found in high levels in healthy hair.
Horses eating a diet consisting of mostly mature grass hay or those eating only small amounts of grain or concentrates can be lacking in the essential amino acids methionine and lysine.
(Learn more about amino acids in: Protein Demystified.)
Ever notice how your horse dapples out when the spring grass comes on? This is partly due to the fat found in fresh grass. Yes, fat; specifically omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are found in grass. These fats give your horse’s coat a wonderful bloom and keep his skin soft and supple.
Horses that are not able to graze on fresh grass can be found lacking in these essential fatty acids. It is very important to provide adequate supplies of omega-3 fatty acids, which are often deficient in modern equine diets.
(Learn more about omega-3 fatty acids in: Omega fatty acid balance is essential to good health.)
Copper, zinc and selenium all affect hair quality. In the case of selenium, too much may cause hair loss of varying degrees. When it comes to zinc, deficiencies will slow hair re-growth. Other symptoms may include lack of shedding and dry, flaky skin. Zinc deficiencies make skin more susceptible to irritation and infection. Copper is a key component in pigmentation. Horses suffering from insufficient copper may have bleached-out hair. Sun damage is more likely and coats tend to be dry and brittle.
Horses at risk for mineral deficiencies or imbalances include those on restricted diets, horses maintained on mature hay, and horses that eat plain grains or small amounts of concentrates. Horses in rigorous training may have exceptional needs. Review your horse’s diet with a trained nutritionist or your veterinarian to determine if his or her mineral needs are being met.
The vitamins that are most likely to have an impact on hair quality are biotin, vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), and vitamin A. Deficiencies in vitamin A are very rare, and most horses synthesize adequate B vitamins on their own. However, biotin is different. Horses may not make enough biotin to meet their needs. Biotin deficiencies can cause hair to become fine and brittle. Dryness and flaking are also symptoms. Supplemental biotin is readily available.
If your horse’s dull, dry hair coat, skin problems, and brittle mane and tail are causing you grief, check your horse’s diet. Access to high-quality forages (grass and hay), along with the addition of a balanced concentrate fed at the correct level, and/or a coat supplement may be just the thing to put the bloom back in your horse’s coat.